A FORMER city centre sauna is to be transformed into a backpackers’ hostel.
An application has been lodged with the city council to convert the former No.9 Sauna on Merchant Street, along with a smaller office next door.
If approved, visitors on a budget would have the choice of staying at the “Wee Hostel” or the “Big Hostel”.
The plans have been lodged by Capital Draughting Consultants Ltd on behalf of the owners of the building, which lies just off Candlemaker Row.
Consultant Keith Henderson said the unusual structure of the Old Town property – and the fact it only has one window – meant the options for conversion were limited.
Mr Henderson said: “You don’t require windows in a backpackers, and it’s not really great for a pub, because it’s on different levels.
“Indirectly the hostel and office are the same building –the sauna shared the same fire escape at the top.”
Should the plans be approved, the hostels would house five dormitories, sleeping 18 people.
The closure of No.9 Sauna earlier this year is symptomatic of wider changes in the Capital’s sex industry.
In February, Edinburgh council agreed to phase out its traditional pragmatic approach of giving entertainment licences to saunas.
Last year, establishments across the Capital were subject to police raids, leading to the council’s controversial decision to scrap its decades-old policy for licensing saunas and massage parlours.
The decision was criticised by some who claimed it reflected Strathclyde-style policing tactics since the advent of Police Scotland.
Scot-Pep, which represents sex workers in Scotland, warned that the move would have major implications, including the loss of vital links with the health service. But the council has said that saunas can still freely operate unlicensed, and the premises will still be regularly inspected.
The Old Town area is already a popular spot for backpacker hostels, with the well-established Budget Backpackers on the Cowgate and the recently-opened Kick Ass Hostel on the Grassmarket, which prompted controversy over its “inappropriate” name.
Bill Cowan, acting chairman of the recently-reformed Old Town community council, said the group was neutral about the latest proposals. “It’s fatuous to say that saunas were a problem. The sauna wasn’t any trouble,” he said.